It's difficult to understand the original meaning of today's Deutero-Isaiah passage unless we restore the first six verses to the Lectionary selection. Isaiah 49:1-6 is generally referred to as the Second Song of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. The disciples of the anonymous prophet (Deutero-Isaiah) responsible for Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah not only passed on his powerful oracles, they also included four reflections on what it meant for him to be Yahweh's mouthpiece. The first three are autobiographical; the last, biographical -- composed by his followers after his martyrdom.
Most of us celebrate our birthdays. Some among us also celebrate their feast day or patron saint day, but how many of us celebrate the day of our baptism? In his book Christianity: The Making of Christians (Kevin Mayhew Ltd., 1979), Mark Searle reminds readers that for many centuries it was the custom in the church to celebrate the pascha annotinum or the anniversary of baptism. It was a sort of class reunion for the baptized, their sponsors and the bishop, at which they celebrated the Eucharist together.
A well-circulated Hasidic tale tells the story of a rabbi quizzing his students. He asked, "How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?"
One of the students suggested, "Day begins when, from a distance, you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep."
The Lectionary readings chosen for this cycle to celebrate the feast of the Holy Family leave us with difficult questions. By what standards do we evaluate family relationships and why? Who do we include or exclude as family members? And how do we handle family dysfunction, conflict, and abuse?
Christmas: In the bustle of the holiday shopping and commercialism, it's easy to forget that Christmas doesn't end at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 25.
We tend to hear Isaiah's prediction of the birth of "Emmanuel" as a wondrous announcement, the astounding prediction of a birth to take place 700 years after it was spoken. Indeed, it is a marvelous quote, but in its original context, it had nothing at all to do with Jesus. In reality, the birth announcement was made as a serious warning to a wicked king. Facing the danger of an invasion, King Ahaz had chosen to rely on the military might of Assyria to protect him, and in the process, he abandoned his fidelity to the God of his ancestors.
Advent reflection: The angel promised Mary the Holy Spirit, then left her. Mary was left alone. How did she cope?
I once heard the comment that a real connoisseur of classical music is someone who can listen to Rossini's William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. In a similar vein, a real student of Scripture is someone who can listen to an Advent reading from the Hebrew Scriptures and not think of Jesus of Nazareth. During this season we frequently employ readings composed in one context and interpret them in a completely different context. To the biblically unsophisticated, both contexts seem to overlap.
Advent reflection: For a few minutes on a subway train, the riders became a little community, led and guided by the innocence of a child.
If ever there was a more eloquent description of the Messiah and the reign of peace and justice he would establish for all the peoples of the earth, I have not known it. With rich images and even richer prose, Isaiah of Jerusalem (first reading) shares with us the same vision that has filled hearts with hope and joy for almost three millennia (circa 2,800 years).